Condemned: Mental Health in African Countries in Crisis

posted on February 14th 2013 in Photography & Social with 0 Comments

Abandoned by governments, forgotten by the aid community, neglected and abused by entire societies: A voiceless minority resigned to the dark forgotten corners of churches, chained to rusted hospital beds, living out their lives behind the bars of filthy prisons. Lives condemned to quiet misery.

These are the mentally disabled living in Africa’s regions in crisis, countries ravaged by war, gripped by famine, or led by corrupt regimes. And we can take a look through Robin Hammond‘s lenses of his camera, winner of the FotoEvidence Book Award 2013.

Some have suffered severe trauma which has led to illness. Others were born with mental disability. Either way, in countries where infrastructure has collapsed, where displacement has driven the mentally ill away from services, treatment is often the same: a life in chains.

Robin Hammond (New Zealand) documented the lives of the mentally ill in African countries in crisis in an attempt to raise awareness of their plight. He travelled to war ravaged areas of Congo, South Sudan, Somalia and Uganda. He spent time with the displaced in refugee camps in Somalia and Kenya. In Nigeria he went to see the impacts of corruption on facilities for the mentally ill.

After 12 years of documenting human rights issues, he says:

I’ve never come across a greater assault on human dignity. These people are unseen and therefore their suffering ignored.  I want to see this work published so ignorance will no longer be able to be used as an excuse for inaction.

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-14 a la(s) 14.21.49Severely mentally disabled men and women are shackled and locked away in Juba Central Prison for years on end. The new nation of South Sudan faces a tremendous challenge to build a modern country capable of caring for all of its citizens. Juba, Sudan.

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-14 a la(s) 14.23.53This Government run facility in the Niger Delta town of Eket is meant to be a Psychiatric hospital. In reality it is a prison. The oil industry that has brought billions of dollars into the Nigerian economy has arguably been a disaster for the Delta region from where it is extracted. Corruption, mass inequality and violence have plagued the region ever since the discovery of the resource. The Niger Delta, Nigeria.

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-14 a la(s) 14.33.27Abdi Rahman Shukri Ali, 26, has lived in a locked tin shack for two years. He stays with his family in Dadaab in Eastern Kenya, the world’s largest refugee camp, where Somalis fleeing conflict and famine have sought safety. Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya.

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-14 a la(s) 14.24.2013 year old Ahmed Adan Ahmed spends his days walking in circles, or sitting running his hands through the sand at his feet. For 10 years he has been tied to a stick under the tarpaulin of a tent in a camp for Internally Displaced People in Galkayo. His mother Fawzia sees no other option – if she doesn’t tie him he will run away. Galkayo, Puntland, Somalia.

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-14 a la(s) 14.25.22This so called Rehabilitation facility outside the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt holds over 170 people with mental illness or mental disability. In 1999 it was turned into a place of incarceration for homeless people with mental illness that were cleared off the streets in a ‘clean up’ in anticipation of the FIFA World Youth Soccer Championship. They have been here ever since. While the staff denied that they house children, the photographer found, one mentally impaired child (around 8 years old) sleeping on the floor in the room for the “high risk” male inmates. The child had been there for 3 months. The Niger Delta, Nigeria.


If you’re interested in reading more and want to see more of the pictures of his reportage, do not hesitate to visit this page or this one.


Image credits: Robin Hammond.

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